Nothing is Something Else

by David Pratt

Darby had their number. The bastards. They weren’t going to get away with it this time.

He ratcheted down South Main dragging his bum leg, digging himself in the shop windows bent against the wind in a coat too thin and the ass of his pants all worn ragged, right past Old Jesphat jacking his usual mutter, says If everything’s nothing, man, then nothing’s something else and it’s fucking cold Darby where you going brother?

But Darby was going, no time to talk man, and ain’t you the one out here cursed and crucified on the corner in the blueball frigid freeze,  for no good reason, fronting on me you crazy fucking bastard.

He knew Jesphat had nowhere to go but at least get out the wind. Darby, on the other hand, he had to cut through it. It wasn’t about the cat so much as it was the audacity. Some things you just can’t let stand.

The cat annoyed him anyway, started coming around a couple months ago when he smoked out back the rooming house because the skinny redhead down the hall always smelled him smoking in his room and he’d get the landlady’s triple bang on the door first thing in the morning, if you’re going to smoke in there I am going to have to throw you out, and he was sick of hearing it. He spilled out the butts he scavenged throughout the day, rolled the stale remains in a zigzag and stood pressed against the building for warmth that wasn’t there while the cat sat on the dumpster licking its paws watching him cough and shiver. Every day Darby wrapped a portion of his meal in one of the shelter’s rough brown napkins and brought it to the cat that sat there looking at it until Darby flicked his butt away and went inside.

Lights up ahead and the cop knew him, said hey Darby where the fuck you going on a night like this, don’t you live in the other direction? Darby told him I got a right to walk the streets don’t I and the cop couldn’t really argue with that but gave him a hard time anyway, getting out of his cruiser and shining the light in Darby’s eyes. Well I hope wherever you’re dragging that leg to’s worth it. You gotta be batshit to be out in this cold. Look, it’s starting to snow. And it was, but Darby just scowled and tried to walk faster, get the blood pumping, stop the leg tingling. It was only a couple more miles and he didn’t mind the snow. It made everything look different or at least covered up a lot of shit that he didn’t want to see.

Eventually, the cat moved into his room and that was different, a distraction, the skinny redhead cat freak leaving cans of food outside his door, said make sure you don’t smoke inside it’s not good for the kitty, but the damn beast woke him yowling to go out, disappeared for days, suddenly reappeared demanding food, and the landlady what the fuck is that cat doing here? There ain’t no pets allowed and cats is filthy animals. And the cat, Darby didn’t know its name, the cat didn’t even look at him except when it was hungry or wanted to come in out the cold. You’re an asshole of a cat. Darby told it but the cat didn’t give a shit.

The snow was a couple inches now, coming down fast, the leg he dragged plowing a path behind him and his feet wet and cold in his insufficient shoes. Not far to go. It was right around the corner where he’d done community service work for a drunk and disorderly, feeding and watering assorted beasts, cleaning the shit out the cages, walking the dogs mostly doomed to the long sleep.

It was the fucking bitch of a landlady always threatening to throw him out but never did so he kept the cat anyway. Next thing you know she’s calling Animal Control talking about abuse, neglect and unfit feline living conditions but the drafty room in the rundown rooming house was okay for the likes of Darby.

They came, a short severe blonde with her hair wrenched back in a ponytail and old six-foot-two slumped over Schlagel who Darby knew from his shit cleaning days, poking around his room, inspecting the cat and sneering at Darby, her left eyebrow raised in disgust and Schlagel acting like he was going to wretch over some imagined foul stench.

What the fuck do you mean unfit for a cat? he said but the blonde got all hardcore hand to her club threatening, If you want to give us a hard time we can take you in too. Or you can let us take the cat and we won’t file any animal abuse charges as long as our examination doesn’t turn anything up.

Darby didn’t know what they thought they were going to turn up but he wasn’t getting arrested over a cat so Take the fucking thing and get the hell out, he told them. But as time passed and he finished his pint he got to thinking. Smoking out by the dumpster he figured he knew how to get into the building. It wasn’t like security was taken very seriously. Some nights he had even forgotten to lock the back door and no one had noticed. Even locked it wasn’t much of a barrier. Darby doubted much changed in the couple years since he’d been there.

The light was on in back but it was fenced in. Darby glanced around, slipped through the gate leaving it swinging behind him, pulled the flathead from his pocket to work the hasp that padlocked the kennel room’s steel exit door. The hasp ripped out the wood frame easily and hung from the padlock, Darby went in. Same old stench he remembered, shut the fuck up, he told the barking dogs and they did tails wagging to greet him as he limped by heading for the cats.

The damn beast saw him and yowled like it did when it wanted out of the room. You better appreciate this you little fucker. I’m here to bust you out, but it just yowled again. Darby opened the cage and the cat shot past him straight out the open back door. The dogs started barking again. What the fuck, Darby shrugged. He opened all the cat’s cages, had to shake a couple to get the cats out. Darby dragged his leg over to the nearest dog kennel. Might as well let all you fuckers out. The first few dogs went straight for the cats that were still in the building. The cats went straight for the door. The last few dogs he released hung around casually sticking their noses in everything. Darby left the door open for them, cut back into the wind that carried the sounds of dogs barking and a man shouting a couple streets over. Darby grinned.

He figured the cat would show up eventually if it wanted to. Cats were like that. Fucker was free was the main thing and he’d stuck it to those bastards, they’d be trying to explain the great escape with grim faces to smirking TV reporters in the morning. Plus, it had stopped snowing.

Jesphat was gone from the corner, must’ve scored a bottle Darby thought enviously. At the rooming house he stopped outside to smoke his last rolled butt. No sign of the cat yet. Maybe tomorrow. As he tossed his butt and turned to the door he saw the small black dog that had followed him home standing a cautious few feet away. It looked at him, whined and wagged its tail.

What the fuck, said Darby.